Ambassadors for all we America was. Apologists for all America is.

Archive for December, 2013

“Feliz Navidad” … Merry Christmas from Spiritus in La Paz

This is our church, El Santuario, at Christmas!

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Yes, people go to church on Christmas Day in Mexico too … I just took the pictures before everyone arrived.  Cecil B DeMille designed the creche, I think.  Beautiful.

The Christmas decorations (our creche) is a bit more modest … mostly because there is no space to store Christmas Stuff on a boat.

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Merry Christmas to everyone …


‘Tis the Season!

Merry Christmas to all.

This will be our first Christmas, on a boat, in a foreign land.

Sometimes, you have to stop and enjoy where you are.  The new friends.  The new nation.  The season as you have never celebrated it before.

We put lights on Spiritus.  We are playing Christmas Music.  We attend church in another language.  Christmas Mass should be very interesting now that we speak a little more spanish.

We tried a bright red Christmas cactus fruit called the ‘pitayah’ or Dragon Fruit.

But Christmas is on us.

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Not a creature is stirring …. except for this mouse!

The stockings are hung on the mast with great care … in the expectation St Nicholas, soon will be ….. here.

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Feliz Navidad from our family on Spiritus.


Spiritus finds her voice!

The ICOM 802 Single Side Band Radio.

Let that set for a minute.  Just saying the words makes you smile.  But then, like Christmas Past, the words “some assembly required” come to mind.

Spiritus has not had a HF radio since a problem with our ICOM 730 last year.  We detailed the process of getting the new one to Mexico  thru Aduana and Customs in another related post.  Lets talk about putting all the pieces together and flipping the switch.

But before you can start you have to deal with a complex near-religious incantation of some powerful words.  If you want to bring almost any boat-world social conversation to a halt and reveal the watchers, the secret Illuminati, or the Mages say any or all of the following words.  More than a saying, it is more an incantation of ages past–a secret knowledge that has not changed since Marconi sent out his first “dit-dit-dah” into the darkness. Actually, I am slightly incorrect, the FCC just removed the need to pass a Morse Code test to get your “HAM” operator’s license.

The first word of power.  LICENSE.  I have a “license” to operate my radio!  Can you feel the heads swivel towards you?  Eyebrows arch … a hush falls over the tables at Club Cruceros.  A few wrinkled brows turn your way.  And, a gravel-laden voice from somewhere quietly asks?  “What kind of license?”  I lacked the sense to simply run when I could have.

Pride will get you every time.  “You know … a radio telephone operator’s license!”  I could feel my excitement being drained.

Second word of power.  CALLSIGN.  I can’t stop myself.   I have a “call sign”!  Once again,  the quiet voice–timbered with age… “What kind of call sign, pilgrim?”

“Let me see … I fish out the piece of paper … WDF 3470”.   Repent Sinner ! Pride go’eth before the fall.

Turns out that evidently the priesthood of the amateur airwaves only recognizes an Amateur Radio License which comes in three flavors.  The fabled HAM license.  Alas, my Radio Telephone Operator’s license does not qualify.  Bummer, I cannot talk on many of the channels I can receive .

My call sign … I call this part profiling … in its formulation of three letters followed by four numbers, tells anyone who hears it that I am not really a HAM operator so they can immediately tell me I cannot talk on their channel.

Other words of power.  GROUND.  Want to have fun?  Just ask about what the difference is between a ” ground plane”, a “ground”, and a “counterpoise”.  When you are considering installing a K.I.S.S. counterpoise instead of a ground plane (meaning yards of copper tape, or a thru hull, or attaching to the engine ground for the boat .. or a pipe … or the keel … or … now my head hurts again). If you are reading this and you “know” all the above … riddle me this.  With a KISS coupled to the ground nut on the antenna tuner .. where to you attach the green ground wire from the receiver that is to be ‘grounded’ at the tuner … where?

MMSI NUMBER.   Can you say MMSI number? …. Well, evidently, if you got yours from West Marine with a VHF …  it is good in US waters only.  You need to apply to the FEDS directly and get a new one if you are at sea abroad.  Luckily, I had applied for one with the old radio .. so we were good to go.  You also have to program it into your new ICOM 802 .. and … drum roll … you only get two chances then if you mess up … it has to go back to the factory to be reset.

A final word of power.  KISS.  The K.I.S.S. is even more a controversy and mystery .. you have to say it with a lisp like you are a snake … slowly.  They shiver. They pale. Seasoned HAM operators take one step back from you, some will cross themselves, some will turn their face from you, others will make the sign of the cross in the air and sprinkle drops of coffee on you, as though casting out spirits, evil spirits.

Now, while everyone agrees radial grounding systems are great .. no one agrees if the KISS even works, except for the thousands of people who have them.  Reading the literature on how they work and if they are actually a ‘ground’ will make your head explode.

THE INSTALLATION

To start with, you get four boxes (and a separate control cable package if you don’t like or know much about soldering small wires).

What follows would make Wiley Coyote smile all the way to the canyon floor.  The next six days will be spent running coaxial cables, tying into an antenna,  buying new and more expensive kinds of wire, drilling holes in storage areas and between compartments to run the new coaxial cables.

First find a place to mount the control head … the thing that looks like the radio but isn’t.  It is only the control box for the much heavier,  “transciever”.

Second, find a place with ventilation to mount the “transceiver”.

Third, find another place under the back stay antenna, where you will mount the “antenna tuner”.  Immediately under is better … which, in the case of Spiritus, is across the cabin on the other side of the boat.

I actually thought this would be an easy operation since Spiritus had originally a SSB on board.  Not so!

Turns out that the insulated back stay has RG 8U coaxial cable running to the transceiver.  That is evidently “BAD”.  I need GTO 15 to go from the antenna stay to the AT 140 tuner.

Then I need RG 213 (not the existing RG 8U) to go from the new ICOM 802 to the tuner.  I looked up the specs on the two in the internet and I cannot find any difference in the two kinds of cable specs.  But, hey, it is only money.  I know I will need a cable for the METZ antenna I purchased to feed the DCS component of the IC 802.  So, I leave the existing RG 8U and shorten it and clean it up for that purpose.  It will connect a rail mounted METX antenna.

So mount the radio head!

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Check.

Mount the transceiver!

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Check.

Mount the AT 140 tuner!

Check.

Run speaker wire and control cables for the control head.

Check.

Make a cable from RG 213 coaxial lead and two PL 259 connectors.  Whoa … say again … oh yeah, wire two coaxial cable connectors to the new coax.   Scratch head, look for soldering iron.  Read how to use it.  Read on how to check connections.  Get out Ohm meter … continuity tester.  Read how to use that.  Make and test!  Works good.  Actually, I had the help of a rocket scientist with this part.  I kid you not.

Check.

Run RG 213 and tuner remote cable from transceiver to AT 140.  OK, but where do the green ground wires go?  Hmmmm…. research .. read manuals…. research .. ask  around …. hmmmm.  Answers, answers everywhere .. and never two the same …. three possibilities.  (1) Connect to engine/boat ground.  NO  (2)  Connect to same ground as green wire for transceiver .. hmmm at other end of cable 15 feet away .. NO.  (3) Connect to mounting plate of AT 140  (evidently NO because it is itself not connected to anything but wood).  (4) Connect to the ground nut on the AT 140.  Obviously right BUT .. wait .. the KISS “counterpoise” is connected there ….OMG! ... manual says connect here .. internet can’t decide .. experts are divided … “bad things will happen” … seems to be the wisdom of the Sages.   I connected mine to the mounting plate and the green wire at the transceiver is connected as specified in the ICOM manual.  Nothing bad has happened.  But, for the love of God .. ICOM folks .. I can’t be the first person to have this question .. and you even recommend a counterpoise … so where will it be connected along with the ground?

Check, maybe!

Run the GTO 15 wire from the back stay to the AT 140 … add stand offs so everyone doesn’t electrocute themselves.  The bit with the connection to the little nut … was amusing .. and not at all as the manual described.  Can’t for the life of me get that little cover to co over the GTO 15 connection … but, hey it is inside the boat anyway and out of the weather .  The stretchy self vulcanizing tape was a hoot to apply.  One hand above head … standing on an improvised boarding ladder upside down on the deck … with a non dominant hand .. trying to both stretch and make it stick all at once … two hands would have been so nice.  But got it to work.

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So, check!

The power cable.  Here we go again.  Manual says .. attach directly to batteries.  Then it cautions to be sure batteries get charged .. and that you disconnect/turn off at night or something like that so you don’t discharge the batteries.  There is a little ‘oven’ thingy that keeps the frequency thingy .. warm so when you turn on the radio it will be on the frequency and not off , because it is not warmed up. Hmmm.  Ok, I decide to ignore that … turns out that  it takes less than a minute for it to warm up.  I connect to the circuit panel and leave the inline 30 amp breaker on the shortened line.

Check.

At this point, I have completed a temporary installation.  This means nothing is really permanently mounted yet.  Wiring is run but not secured so I can move stuff around. I make sure not to tell First Mate that it is temporary so she will be more comfortable about the possible end of the week long installation process.  She doesn’t worry each time she sees the boat disassembled because she thinks we are closer and closer to being finished.  This is a sin of omission.  It really is better not to know.

I flip on the breaker for SSB on the power panel.  Close eyes and punch the power button on the ICOM 802.  Urea!  I get (1) no blinding flash,  (2) there is no loud bang followed by the smell of plastic burning.  (3)  The radio lights up.  (4) There is static, hmmm (5)  It had words on it.  (6) When I spin the dial .. the channels change.  (7) When I hit tune , I hear the tuner function and  get a TX indicator on the now lit up screen.   (8)  I can hear fax modem noises on the weather fax channels. (9) I can hear the Coast Guard weather channel (for somewhere) with its automated voice weather.

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Breathe out!

Check.

Yes, by God …. Check.

Now I just have to work up the courage to transmit on an SSB channel and get a position return and a response.  Cross you fingers for us!

Oh, and a final note .. after all of this … you still don’t know if it is working right till you have someone with an SWR meter test the strength of your signal.  And, I almost forgot .. ask about ‘ferrites’.  Most of your cabling (but not all) has to have ferrites to hold down RFI (radio frequency interference) caused by stuff in your boat.  Think of witching for water .. and you will get an idea of the science behind the effort.  Maybe “FERRITE” is a word of power!

Install “ferrets” as my wife, Carolyn,  calls them.

Check.

Six days pass … see if wife is still on the boat.

Check….however, I do notice that she is no longer speaking to me.